Thursday, August 31, 2023

Guardian: Zhen Hun vol 1 by Priest: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Guardian: Zhen Hun by Priest

Guardian: Zhen Hun is urban fantasy set in an imaginary Dragon City in modern China, with references to party politics and complete with a nepo hire, when a nephew of a high-up party official is given a job at the Special Investigations Department, the supernatural division of the Ministry of Public Security.

Guo Changcheng is a recent college graduate and a shut-in who has no idea what he has been signed for. Learning that some of his coworkers aren’t human, or even alive, is a bit too much for him, but after the initial blackout, he promptly (timidly) sets out to work, only to spend most of the book fainting, screaming, and crying. But he has an empathic nature and isn’t quite as hopeless as his boss originally feared. And after encountering some really bad ghosts, his coworkers don’t seem so scary anymore either. The only one who frightens him is his perfectly human boss, Zhao Yunlan.

Zhao Yunlan is the Director of the Special Investigations and in charge of investigating supernatural crimes. He’s in his early thirties, a handsome and temperamental chain-smoker and a bit of a player. He’s also the Guardian to the Soul-Guarding Order, which allows him to freely move in all three realms (heaven, mortal realm and the netherworld) and hobnob with the people there, like the Soul-Executing Emissary feared by everyone but him.

The book consists of two stories. In the first, Guo Changcheng and Zhao Yunlan investigate a murder of a university student that’s supernatural in origin. At the university, they encounter Shen Wei, a handsome, mild-mannered young professor whom they end up pulling into their investigation, mostly because Zhao Yunlan is attracted to him at first sight. But the professor isn’t what he seems, as the readers are soon shown.

The second story takes place in the mountains after an earthquake. Wang Zheng, a ghost employee at the SID, is from that region and she wants to return to rebury her bones. By coincidence, Shen Wei is going there with his students too, and the two parties travel together. But things aren’t how Wang Zheng has let them believe, and Zhao Yunlan ends up needing the help of the Soul-Executing Emissary to get everyone home safely. And once there, it’s finally time for Zhao Yunlan to confront Shen Wei to find out who he truly is and if he’s as indifferent to Zhao Yunlan as he pretends to be.

This was an excellent book. The mysteries weren’t complicated but they were suitably scary. Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei were interesting characters, and even though there wasn’t as much interaction between them as I wanted, theirs is clearly a romance larger than life. Side characters were fun, especially Daqing, a talking black cat who is thousands of years old. There was a lot of information about Chinese mythology, but I would’ve wanted more about the everyday Chinese life too. The book ends at a natural point with a promise of interesting things to come. I will definitely read more.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Thousand Autumns vol 2 by Meng Xi Shi: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Thousand Autumns vol 2 by Meng Xi Shi

The second volume of Thousand Autumns: Qian Qiu, a xianxia set in alternative 7th century China, picks up where the previous left, at the banquet where stunning revelations have ruined the party. Battle after battle ensues, barely giving the reader time to adjust. In the end, Shen Qiao has to step in to save the night and reveal who he is.

Pace calms a little after that, but not by much. The narrative is much tighter than in the first volume. The politics of the backstory have been set aside, the cast of characters is smaller, and Shen Qiao has a clear goal: finding his treacherous friend who poisoned him. He parts ways with Yan Wushi, only to have the man return in his life in a most unfortunate manner possible.

It’s clear by now that this isn’t a love story. It’s the story of Shen Qiao’s trials and tribulations. He’s tested time and again, beaten to near death, only to rise back up and grow even stronger. Yan Wushi barely makes an appearance, and there are no scenes from his point of view. But I still read it like a love story, rooting for the pair, only to have my hopes crushed.

Even without a romance, it’s a wonderful story. Shen Qiao is a great character with excellent morals and kind personality. It’s wonderful to follow his journey. Yan Wushi is ever the schemer and it’s difficult to get a hang of him. The volume doesn’t end with a cliffhanger, but there’s a promise of an interesting story to come. And I haven’t given up on Yan Wushi yet—and neither has Shen Qiao. I absolutely have to read more.

Monday, August 07, 2023

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads
Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher

Thornhedge is a good retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It’s short, but it has everything a story needs: a sweet, resolute heroine and a hero who believes in her, great emotions and a happy ending.

Toadling is born human, but she’s replaced with a changeling right after birth and brought to the fairy land where she grows up being loved. Then, one day, she’s brought back to the human world to keep in rein the changeling who has replaced her. But it’s easier said than done. Out of options, she spells the changeling to sleep for eternity—until a kind knight arrives and frees them both.

This was a quick read that left me feeling happy. Toadling was delightful, and while Halim was a somewhat forceful character who did what he wanted, he learned to listen to her in the end. I don’t think the story improved for being set in the ‘real’ world instead of a fairy tale land though. The historical references tended to yank me out of the story. But if you want a quick, cute read, this is for you.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

Ravensong by TJ Klune: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Ravensong by TJ Klune

Ravensong, the second book in Green Creek urban fantasy series continues where the first ended. I’ve wanted to read Gordo’s (and Mark’s) story since then, and it didn’t disappoint.

It wasn’t an easy read though, and I’m not sure I was emotionally in a right place for this book. I almost gave up several times when poor Gordo was put through the wringer over and over again. These wolves are such assholes in how they treat people.

Like the previous book, the narrative consists of short scenes in unchronological order, some important scenes playing out several times. The tight narrative makes it a heavy reading when there are no breathers, only important scenes.

But I’m glad I persevered to the end, because it’s good. It’s not a happily ever after—that’s impossible with these wolves—but it’s happy for now. And there’s already a promise of more pain to come. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to read on.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.